Basic Vanilla Buttercream Recipe

vanilla buttercream recipe by sugar and sparrow

I’ve tested a ton of buttercream recipes in my day, but my go-to is a super simple American buttercream recipe that I’ve tweaked to my liking. I’ve used this recipe for frosting countless cakes and cupcakes and I’m a big believer that a good vanilla buttercream is something every baker should have in their recipe box. There’s nothing fancy about the way this recipe is made, but it will certainly taste like you whipped up something special!

best vanilla buttercream recipe by sugar and sparrow

Making sure you use a good quality vanilla extract or paste is one of the secrets to success. You can use any kind of vanilla extract or paste, but I always use bourbon vanilla (I get mine from Trader Joe’s!) to give it a rich vanilla flavor. The other secret to success? Room temperature everything. That means taking the milk and butter out and letting them come to room temperature for about a half hour to an hour before you start any mixing. 

vanilla buttercream recipe by sugar and sparrow
5 from 9 votes
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Vanilla Buttercream

A rich, flavorful vanilla buttercream that is so easy to whip up, but tastes like you made something special. 

Prep Time 20 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 3 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 1/2 cups (420g) powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbsp whole milk or heavy whipping cream, room temperature
  • pinch of salt, or to taste

Instructions

  1. With a hand mixer or paddle attachment on your stand mixer, cream the butter on medium-high until it’s creamy and light (almost white) in color. About 7 minutes. 

  2. Add the sifted powdered sugar, one cup at a time, scraping down after each addition and making sure each cup is fully incorporated before adding the next one. 

  3. Add vanilla, milk, and salt and mix on medium-low for another two minutes until fully incorporated. 


Tips for the best buttercream consistency

There are three types of consistency for buttercream that you need to know, and each one plays a different role in cake decorating.

Thin Consistency

This is what you want if you’re frosting a cake, especially if you want a smooth buttercream finish. This buttercream is pretty thin consistency as-is, so it’s super easy to spread smoothly onto cakes. To test and make sure you’ve got a thin consistency going, you should be able to dip your rubber spatula into the buttercream and it will come out with smooth peaks and spread easily when you move your finger over it.

best buttercream consistency for frosting cake

Medium Consistency

If you’re about to pipe some cupcakes or intricate designs around a cake (like a shell border), medium consistency will help your buttercream hold the design without drooping. To achieve it, just add an extra half cup of powdered sugar per batch to the above recipe. 

best buttercream for piping cupcakes recipe

Stiff Consistency

If you’re piping buttercream flowers, especially ones with petals that need to stand upright, you’ll need a stiff consistency. Add an extra cup powdered sugar per batch of the above recipe to achieve this. When you dip your rubber spatula into the frosting, it should come out with stiff peaks, but when you pipe with it, make sure it’s not so thick that you have to put a ton of extra pressure on the bag or clog the piping tip. If you’re running into these problems, fear not! You can tone it down by adding whole milk, 1 tsp at a time, until it’s just right.

how to make buttercream flowers

82 Comments

    • 5 stars
      Hallo, wat is dit ‘whole milk or heavy whipping cream’???
      Alvast bedankt

      • Hi Aygul! Whole milk has the highest butterfat percentage of any dairy milk (as opposed to “2%” or “skim milk”, etc) and heavy whipping cream is basically whole milk with an even higher butterfat percentage. What kind of milk do you have over there? I can offer a recommendation if you don’t have access to whole milk or heavy whipping cream.

        • Hi Whitney,

          while I do have whole milk and heavy whipping cream I’m curious to hear your other recommendation. I don’t generally have either at home as we don’t drink milk and the heavy cream always goes to waste after the couple tbsps I use out of the cartons :/

          Thanks!

          • Hi Maria! This recipe is best with either whole milk or heavy whipping cream. I’ve never tried it with any other liquid, but I suppose you could substitute it with any liquid dairy you have on hand. Let me know if you try it with something as a substitute!

        • I don’t have access to either and have 2% milk at home. What’s your recommendation?

          • Hi Takwa, you can use 2% milk and the results should be totally fine! Just make sure the milk is room temperature before adding it to the buttercream. I only recommend Whole Milk or Heavy Whipping Cream because that’s usually what I have on hand and the added fat content produces buttercream that’s a little bit fluffier.

        • Takwa Wahedi

          I don’t have easy access to whole milk or heavy cream! I’d love a recommendation!

          • Hi Takwa. Just like I mentioned above, you can use any kind of milk you want. You mentioned having 2% milk at home and that would be totally fine.

  1. Jodie Becker

    Hi Whitney, thanks for your tips!! Buttercream is always too sweet for me. Is there any other ways to make it stiffer without making it sweeter?

    • Hi Jodie! I hate having buttercream that’s too sweet, which is why my recipe includes less powdered sugar than normal and the addition of salt. If the stiffened version of this recipe is still too sweet for your liking, try adding an extra pinch or two of salt to even out the flavor.

      • 5 stars
        Hi, Am from Peru, and am new in the world of pastry. I followed you for a while, but i didn´t know you have a blog. I love your work, and found this tips it´s awesome. Thanks for sharing all your secrets.
        My question is, when you said less powdered sugar and the addition of salt, you meant like change quantities? And if i use less powdered sugar, my buttercream will be thin? I used 334gr of margarine and 167gr of shortening, and 1kg of powder sugar. And i have same problem, flavor its to sweet. I use a peruvian escense called: Leche condensada, not Vanilla. Thanks again for your tips, and by just reading my comment am happy! Best of wishes always!

        • Hi Johanna! Thanks so much for the kind words! Depending on the consistency of the buttercream (if you want it thicker for piping things like buttercream flowers or thinner for frosting a cake) I recommend using different amounts of powdered sugar, as specified in the Consistency section of this post after the recipe. If your buttercream is too sweet, you can add a little extra salt to tone it down. I always just taste as I go. Hope that helps!

  2. Elizabeth Lewis

    5 stars
    Thank you Whitney! I am new to your blog amd I adore it already! You’re posts are to the point, and funny and your recipes aren’t overwhelmingly or complicated! From this busy F/t Mommy, big thanks!

    Blessings to you!

  3. 5 stars
    Wow!!! Ur recipes are sooo wonderful and amazing. I just love them. It’s soooo simple and easy to understand. Thnks a lot for sharing ur wonderful recipes with everyone

  4. Hi. After frosting the cake, should I refrigerate it or is it okay to keep it in room temperature?

    • Hi Debbie! While you can technically leave the frosted cake at room temperature for up to two days, I usually refrigerate it until about an hour before serving the cake. I only do that to ensure the frosting stays picture perfect + the cake is easier to handle for a delivery if it’s cold. Just make sure you serve the cake at room temperature because it tastes better that way!

  5. Donna B Oliphint

    I live in middle Alabama, and all butter buttercream will melt in my kitchen, much less during transport even if it’s been refrigerated. Do you have any tips for making it more stable. Currently, I use 1/2 butter and 1/2 Crisco. I’ve just learned about SweetX, but wondered about the taste.

  6. Your cake is gorgeous!! I have a quick question about the sifted powdered sugar. Do you measure first then sift into the creamer butter or do you sift into a measuring cup? Thanks!!

    • Hi Marlena! I usually sift the powdered sugar into a big bowl, then spoon it into a measuring cup and level it off before adding it to the butter. Hope that helps!

  7. Hello! I would like to know if with these quantities you decorate the whole cake or make more quantity of cream. Thank you

    • Hi Martina! I double the recipe if I’m filling and frosting a 6 inch cake, but as-is it will fill and frost a 4 inch cake or can be used to decorate about 18-20 cupcakes. Hope that helps!

  8. Sunshine

    I use crisco in my icing. Can I use the same ratio you have with the butter? Also, what about the butter crisco? Thoughts?

    • Hi Sunshine! I’ve never tried this recipe with Crisco or Butter Crisco, so it would be an experiment for you! I think it’s worth trying though, and if you do I would try it with the same ratio I have with butter. Let me know if you try it, I’m curious now!

  9. Hola es la primera vez que entro en tu blog, y vaya me encantó. Mi pregunta es, cuánto dura la consistencia de la crema si hago una torta con picos como la de unicornio que tú hiciste, pero si la dejo al aire libre en un cumpleaños

    • Hola, Leonela, haría la crema de mantequilla de consistencia media y debería estar bien salir en una fiesta de cumpleaños al aire libre durante una hora o dos, siempre que la temperatura exterior sea de 75 grados o menos. Si hace más calor que eso, dejaría la torta en el refrigerador hasta una hora antes de servirla.

  10. Ho There,
    How long does the buttercream last? Do you think it is OK to make the buttercream in advance, store it in the fridge, and then bring it back to room temp before using? Thanks so much!
    Heather

    • Hi Heather! I make this buttercream recipe ahead all the time. You can store it in an airtight container at room temperature for two days, then rewhip it with your stand mixer to bring it back to creamy consistency. If you’re wanting to store it for longer than two days, place it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When you’re ready to use it, bring it back to room temp and rewhip with your mixer before using. Hope that helps!

      • I made the buttercream and it is absolutely delicious!! I’m so excited about this recipe! One more question, once the cake is frosted what is the best way to store it? Do you cover it with plastic wrap or a cake platter with lid?

        • Yay, Heather! So happy to hear that! Once the cake is frosted, the buttercream acts as a barrier to hold moisture within the cake, so there’s no need to cover it with additional plastic wrap, etc. I just keep it in the refrigerator until a few hours before serving.

  11. Do you have a similar recipe for chocolate buttercream frosting?

  12. Jessica H.

    5 stars
    I’ve nevwr loved an ABC frosting more than this! & the smoothest I’ve ever been able to get on a cake. Thank you for the recipe!

  13. Jessica Ebert

    Hi Whitney, Could I make a strawberry buttercream using freeze-dried strawberries and this recipe? If so, do you have any recommendations on quantity of freeze-dried strawberry powder to butter/sugar/cream/milk? Strawberry frosting is the best, but I can’t use most recipes as they require extract and I’m allergic to red 40. Thanks!

  14. Hi Whitney! Do you use the thin consistency to cover the outer layer of the cake? Which consistency is best if I need to paint it in gold? Another question what happens if I want to reduce the sugar level does it affect the consistency of the buttercream?

    • Hi Natalie! I use thin-consistency to frost cakes (it’s the same measurements as the recipe above). If you add less sugar, the consistency will be even thinner, so I would reduce the amount of milk depending on how much you reduce the sugar (otherwise it might be too liquidy). You can eyeball that part. Thin consistency buttercream will also be perfect for painting a gold finish. You just need to refrigerate the cake after frosting it for about 30 minutes (until the buttercream is firm to the touch) before painting.

    • Hi, Jessy! I don’t think this recipe is too sweet. I purposefully reduced the sugar (most other recipes call for 4+ cups of sugar) and added salt to make it sweet, but not overly so.

  15. 5 stars
    Thank you! I’m a basic cook, but I followed your buttercream (and chocolate dripping ganache) recipe, plus the tips. They were a great help & they both came out perfectly!

  16. Hi Whitney,

    When you say you use this to frost your cakes, is that for the crumb coat also? And how much doubling will I have to do for a 10in rounds cake? I’m really excited to try this recipe since i’ve stayed away from traditional butter cream because of the sweetness.

    • Hi, Jackie! This recipe works for filling, crumb coating, and frosting the cake. For a 10 inch round cake, if you’re using it as filling as well as frosting, I would make 2.5x the recipe. If you’re just crumb coating and frosting the cake, I would make 1.5x the recipe. Hope you love it!! Let me know how it goes.

  17. Hi Whitney,
    what can you substitute vanilla extract with? I have Vanilla essence and vanilla paste but I’m not sure if I can use them to replace it? please will you let me know if I can substitute with these and in what measurements.
    thanks

    • Hi Ashley! You can substitute vanilla extract with vanilla paste. Just use equal amounts of vanilla paste per amount of vanilla extract and you’ll be good!

  18. I’ve tried this recipe a couple times now and I love it!! Not overly sweet which is great. However, each time I’ve made it I get some serious air bubbles, which makes getting that nice, smooth layer of frosting on my cake difficult. Any tips??

    • Hi Bel! Glad you’re loving the vanilla buttercream recipe! So the only real way to eliminate air bubbles is to make sure you don’t overwhip the buttercream (more whipping time = more air being incorporated). If you do end up with air bubbles, try pressing the buttercream to the sides of your mixing bowl with a rubber spatula to release some of that air.

      Sometimes when I’m frosting a cake and finding that there are air bubbles that can’t easily be smoothed out, I will get the first frosting layer as smooth as I can and then chill the cake for about 30 minutes, then fill in all the air bubble holes with more buttercream and smooth that over. It makes for a super smooth cake. Here’s a full tutorial with all my best tips on how to get the smoothest finish possible: https://sugarandsparrow.com/how-to-frost-a-cake/ Hope all that helps!

  19. I was wondering about how many cupcakes does this decorate? Wanted to use this for a cupcake cake and some extra cupcakes, 60 in total

  20. Thanks for this wonderful recipe! Do you have YouTube channel? I am from Philippines

  21. Hello! I am a home baker and for some reason my previous recipe (which uses shortening) has just been, well, falling short lately! So I plan on trying out yours this weekend!

    Quick question regarding coloring – most of my cakes are not white and so how I do it now is incorporate the color into the cream/vanilla and then put it in the butter/sugar mix. Would you recommend doing this or what is your “go to” method for adding color!

    I’m so excited to find your site, I love your tutorials! I am going to try out a fault line cake this weekend I think!

    • Hi Ashley! I’m so excited for you to try this vanilla buttercream recipe and make a fault line cake. For coloring, I usually make the batch of buttercream, then add food color gel to tint it. I find that it’s easier to control the color that way, but you do you!

  22. Hey I live in a area which is quite humid so is there anyway to prevent my buttercream melting without using shortening

    • Hi Rhea! Substituting butter with shortening is the only method I’ve tried for stabilizing the buttercream for hot/humid environments. If you’d rather go the all-butter route, you can always keep the cake in the fridge until about 30 minutes before you serve it. That keeps it nice and firm for presentation.

      • Interesting! I have not bought the Costco butter because it says sweet cream and I thought that was different. Did you use Costco butter for your vanilla cake too?

    • Hi Alia! It depends on the size of the cake. For a three-layer 6 inch cake (the most common size I make), I double this vanilla buttercream recipe.

    • Hi Roneth! I’ve never tried this recipe with margarine, but I have tried it with half butter and half shortening (which works great!). I’d say give it a try, but I can’t recommend it confidently since I don’t know how it will turn out with margarine.

  23. 5 stars
    Hello Whitney,
    Thank you so much for sharing all of your talents.
    I tried your medium consistency vanilla buttercream to frost cupcakes. However, I am so slow at frosting that by the time I finish frosting five cupcakes, my hands have heated up the rest of the frosting in the piping bag making the frosting very melty and aesthetically unpleasing. So, I tried adding less to the bag, refrigerated it, whipped it up, and then frosted but then I get these bad ruffley edges for the rosettes. PLEASE HELP. I can’t seem to get the temperature right to frost.

    • Hi Sam, I have a few tricks for that because it’s happened to me before! Prepare one piping bag by fitting it with the piping tip. Then, fill a second piping bag with the frosting, snip off the end, and place it inside the piping bag with the piping tip. This will help prevent the frosting inside from heating up too quickly. Also, try running your hands under cold water and drying them off before piping. This will slow down the process of your hands getting too hot. Between those two things, I think you can buy yourself lots of extra time for piping those cupcakes!

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